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Kathy Bates Was 'Warned' to Hide Struggles Running 'Like a River' Through Her Family to Not Lose Career

Junie Sihlangu
Feb 17, 2022
03:00 P.M.
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In her lifetime, Kathy Bates has been diagnosed with cancer twice. She dealt with it the first time around by having a procedure but was advised not to go public about the news if she cared about her work.


Oscar Award-winner Kathy Bates was 55 years old in 2003 when she was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors informed her that she had stage 1 ovarian cancer and was advised to get surgery immediately.

After the procedure, the actress had to spend nine months getting chemotherapy to fight the disease. She went through all that grueling hardship without her fans, friends, and the public knowing.

Kathy Bates at the 20th anniversary of the Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala on January 6, 2009, in California, and her at the 92nd Annual Academy Awards on February 09, 2020, in Hollywood. | Source: Michael Buckner & Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images


The star had to keep her very personal struggle a secret. The reason behind her not going public with the devastating news had a lot to do with her image and her work, with Bates recalling to People magazine:

“I didn’t tell anybody.”


Kathy Bates at the 60th Annual Golden Globe Awards on January 19, 2003, in Beverly Hilton. | Source: Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Images


The "Night, Mother" actress revealed that her agent was the one who told her not to tell anyone about her diagnosis. Her gynecologist also "warned" Bates that she shouldn't go public because of the Hollywood stigma.

The star's gynecologist seemed to know what she was talking about because her husband worked in the business. Instead, right after her operation, the actress continued working.

She explained that her agent at the time had been old-school and did not want Bates to be seen as the poster child for ovarian cancer. However, keeping her diagnosis a secret took a lot out of her.

Kathy Bates at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on January 29, 2012, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images


In 2012, she appeared in an episode of "Anderson," where she reiterated to Anderson Cooper that she was advised not to go public. She revealed that the diagnosis coincided with a contract to do the film "Little Black Book."

The "Fried Green Tomatoes" star's doctors also informed her that they had to get approval from her insurance for her surgery. So she kept quiet about her scary diagnosis and went right back to filming.


Kathy Bates at the world premiere for "The Manchurian Candidate" on July 19, 2004, in New York City. | Source: Evan Agostini/Getty Images


Bates finally decided to open up about her diagnosis in 2009. She told "Today's" co-hosts Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira that at that point, she had been in total remission for 5½ years.

When Vieira asked her why it had taken her that long to go public, the "Titanic" actress said she had needed to focus on only the diagnosis and nothing else. She also went to chemotherapy alone and without her friends because she needed to go through that journey independently.

Melissa Etheridge onstage during the 47th Annual Grammy Awards on February 13, 2005, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images


However, Bates decided she needed to tell her story with the hope that she could help other women who were diagnosed with the disease and encourage early detection. She also hoped coming out with her story would help find a cure.

The "About Schmidt" star also found inspiration from musician Melissa Etheridge. She recalled seeing the songstress playing her guitar at a concert while proudly showing off her bald head!


Kathy Bates at the 20th anniversary of the Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala on January 6, 2009, in California. | Source: Michael Buckner/Getty Images


Sadly, in July 2012, Bates was diagnosed again with cancer after finding a tumor in her left breast, meaning this time she had breast cancer. However, because of the inspiration, she got from Etheridge, the actress went public as soon as she was ready.

She did not play around with the disease this time and underwent a double mastectomy where 19 lymph nodes were removed. The actress noted to AARP in 2013 that her mother and niece had cancer and her aunt died from it, confessing:

“Breast cancer runs like a river through my family.”

Kathy Bates at the WebMD Health Hero Awards on January 15, 2019, in New York City. | Source: Theo Wargo/Getty Images


The "American Horror Story" star explained that testing negative for genetic mutations that predispose a person to cancer, as she did, did not mean one could assume they were fine. In 2017, she opened up to Huffington Post about her mother's journey.

She [Kathy Bates] also lost 60 lbs. through maintaining a healthy diet and exercising to counteract the effects of the disease.

She recalled how her mother had radical mastectomy where everything was taken out, leading her arm to swell. After the surgery, Bates' mother couldn't fit into her nice clothes anymore.

Kathy Bates at the "American Horror Story: Apocalypse" panel during the Summer TCA Press Tour on August 3, 2018, in Beverly Hills, California. | Source: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images


Speaking to People in July 2017, she shared how she had considered having reconstructive surgery. However, the star chose not to because she did not want to take time off her busy work schedule as she was enjoying her career too much!

The "Misery" actress also explained that she did not feel the need to pretend that she had breasts when she did not. Bates said she was grateful for being born at a time when research made it possible for her to survive her diagnosis and told the publication that she felt lucky to be alive.


Kathy Bates at the "Look West" New York Times event on June 10, 2015, in West Hollywood, California. | Source: Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images


After her battles with cancer, Bates decided she could do some good by helping raise awareness about lymphedema, a disease caused by removing lymph nodes during cancer treatment. The condition causes swelling and extreme pain and has no cure.

The "Disjointed" star joined the Lymphatic Education & Research Network (LE&RN) as its national spokesperson. In April 2018, she was working on getting New York to pass a bill that mandated hospitals to have literature informing patients about lymphedema.

Kathy Bates at the National Women's History Museum's 7th Annual Women Making History Awards on September 15, 2018, in Beverly Hills, California. | Source: Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty Images


For her part, the star has managed her pain by wearing arm compression sleeves. She also lost 60 lbs. through maintaining a healthy diet and exercising to counteract the effects of the disease.

Bates has since had a very successful career and is open about her cancer journey to help inform other women. She has since appeared in several shows and movies, including "On the Basis of Sex."

Kathy Bates at the Austin Film Society's Texas Film Awards on March 7, 2019, in Austin, Texas. | Source: Gary Miller/Getty Images


The actress explained to People that acting was her life force. She concluded by advising women to stay healthy, go for regular checkups, and stop taking selfies and worrying about what they looked like!

Instead, she encouraged them to focus on keeping everything in good working condition. That same year, Bates also starred in "Stand Up To Cancer," the annual, televised charity event that raises money for cancer research.


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